JULY 30 (Reuters) — As Africa nears the first National Basketball Association (NBA) game on the continent, several international professional basketball players hosted a clinic on Wednesday (July 29) for a group of South African boys and girls.
The clinic was hosted at the American school in Johannesburg as part of the Basketball without Borders (BWB) program, run by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) and the NBA as part of a global outreach program.
The sold-out game will take place at Ellis Park Arena in Johannesburg on August 1 and will host NBA favorites such as eight-time All-star Chris Paul, and two time NBA All-Star Luol Deng, who was born in South Sudan, when they go against each other as Team Africa versus Team World.
The NBA Vice-President for Africa Amadou Gallo says there is a tremendous appetite for the game on the African continent.
“We could have the whole team made of Africans play against the rest of the world,” he said after the clinic. “I think it speaks of the tremendous talent that the continent has, and I’m excited for the opportunity to continue to work towards really making the game really accessible to the millions of young boys and girls across the continent.”
One player in attendance, Nigerian-born Festus Ezeli, moved to the United States when he was 14. He has gone on to become a key player for NBA champions Golden State Warriors.
The South African sports minister, Fikile Mbalula, is hopeful that events like this can inspire young South Africans and that the sport can impact many areas of their lives.
“We are giving young people a choice that, basketball for them is not just playing, it’s a lifestyle issue and that is where they meet their friends, they actually mix up with the popular culture and, over and above that, enjoy the game of basketball, and in this instance we are able to really give young people options,” said Mbalula.
Soccer is still the number one sport in South Africa, but the NBA has worked hard to grow basketball in South Africa, and the rest of the continent.
35 players from Africa have appeared in the NBA. The first African player to play in the NBA was Hall of Famer and two-time NBA champion Hakeem Olajuwon who grew up in Nigeria before being drafted by the Houston Rockets in 1984.
The hope will be that events such as this inspire more young Africans to take up the game.